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Situation Update - Pakistan

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General elections to be held on 25 July; elevated risk for political violence

 

Summary

  • Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi approves 25 July for general election
  • Election Commission of Pakistan request 350,000 military personnel to protect election
  • Polling to occur between hours of 08:00 and 18:00 local time
  • Polling to be held under new delimitation of 2017 census designated constituencies
  • New ballots papers to be printed for election
  • Multiple legal hearings taking place regarding candidate registrations
  • Political campaigning underway; some unsubstantiated threats for political unrest
  • Former PM Nawaz banned form political office and sentenced to ten-year imprisonment for corruption

 

Pakistan election 2018

Situation 

On 23 May 2018, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on behalf of President Mamnoon Hussain, approved 25 July as the date for Pakistan’s general election (15th National Assembly). Upon dissolution of the assembly and ahead of polling, Nasirul Mulk was appointed as interim Prime Minister. The three largest parties contesting the election are the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N), Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The previous general election was held in 2013 with the Pakistan Muslim League (N) winning the largest share of National Assembly seats, but fell short of a majority requiring the party to enter into a coalition government with independent candidates. Political and terrorist violence (largely the result of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan insurgency) struck unprecedented levels, occurring throughout the electoral period while the result was contested by the opposition, in particular, by the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and ex-cricketer Imran Khan. 

Controversies included, vote rigging, favouritism, and ethnicity trends on political parties. Subsequent 2014 unrest, required robust disruption tactics by the ruling coalition, causing casualties and ending without resolution. More recently, the 2018 vote has been scheduled following the 2017/18 political crisis - over allegations of corruption as part of the Panama Papers’ revelations - involving former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in which the politician was barred from holding public office for life, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. 

In light of previous controversies, polling will be held under the new delimitation of 2017 census designated constituencies and the Election Commission of Pakistan will be using new printing machines to ‘ensure a free, fair, impartial, transparent and peaceful general election’. Additionally, the military have been asked to support in policing the election, with 350,000 protection personnel likely to be deployed to 185,307 polling stations.

Analysis 

Political violence (riots, protests and counter-protests, assassinations, and violent attacks designed to shape electoral outcomes) re-occurs with greater frequency during election periods in Pakistan, and although military counter-terrorism successes will have mitigated the risk of renewed 2013 levels of violence, there remains strong drivers for violence. 

Recent topics likely to stoke tension include; the lack of resolution for the opposition regarding the 2013 election and the recent removal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from public office, and his sentencing for corruption, for ruling party supporters. While generally, there is a persistent influence of tribal/kinship/religious patronage on political parties, ongoing gender-based inequality/violence, and there is constant allegations of religious/social marginalisation. 

According to current opinion polls, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) is generally scoring well in forecasts; however, the closer election opinion polling is ahead of the vote the greater the risk of violence will be, especially in marginal seats such as Balochistan and Rawalpindi, which both have estimated 4% margins. Although hard-line religious-political influence has somewhat diminished during the past five years, because of successful counter-terrorism operations, latent support remains strong and therefore a successful mobilisation for any particular group could stoke discourse, directing related violence. 

To date, political tension has mainly manifested in legal cases for and against candidates and unsubstantiated threats for strike actions during campaign events. Ultimately, the level of political violence that will occur will be primarily driven by the appetite among the primary contesting parties and their perception that violence could sway public opinion. Where violence occurs, robust mitigation measures will likely be employed by the security forces, including the use of water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets, containers to block routes, disruption to communication networks, as well as sporadic use of live-rounds. While, the threat from domestic and international terrorist organisations cannot be discounted.

Implications

  • Heightened political tensions likely in run-up to the election as campaigning gathers pace.
  • Intensity of campaigning to influence political tension and therefore risk of unrest. Strict restrictions on public gatherings and demonstrations could result in violence should authorities intervene.
  • Persistent threat posed by both domestic and international terrorist organisations with intent to disrupt the democratic process.
  • UK and Australian governments update travel advice for potential political violence. Likelihood for further Five Eyes intelligence community travel warnings to be issued.
  • Security measures expected to be stringent, particularly in major cities, during campaign events and at polling stations. These measures are likely to include an increased and highly visible security forces deployment, additional identification checks, vehicle checkpoints and the possibility of travel restrictions on certain days.
  • Military likely to continue robust counter-terrorism operations, and scrutiny of border particularly with India and Afghanistan.

Advice

  • Keep a low profile at all times and limit time spent on the streets.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and exercise good situational awareness. Move out of the area as soon as possible if tensions escalate.
  • Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Even events that look peaceful can quickly turn violent without warning.
  • Security forces are likely to respond in force to any violent unrest. Be aware that if you are caught near to any protest action you could be mistaken for a participant.
  • Monitor local media although be mindful of political bias.
  • Expect an increased police and military presence. Follow the instructions of the authorities at all times.
  • Prepare for possible travel disruption due to heightened security measures. This could include road closures near gatherings.
  • Review your personal travel and security plans, particularly with regard to accommodation location and journey management during the coming months.